POPULATION: 331,900 (2013)
LANGUAGE: English (official); Spanish; local Creole
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism (40%); Atheist (15%); Protestants
Belize used to be a one of the center of the Mayan Civilization with a total of 400,000 people. With the Spanish expeditions that arrived in the area and diseases such as smallpox and yellow fever the Mayan civilization collapsed by the sixteenth century. British settlers then arrived in 1638 and brought in slaves from Africa to work the plantations. Belize is known for the English pirates that used to use Belize as a base where they took logwood from. This made mahogany as the major export of the country and their national tree.
Belize is a located on the north by Mexico, on the west and south by Guatemala, and on the east by the Caribbean Sea. It is flat and swampy along the southern coast and mostly level in the north. Belize’s climate is warm and humid. There are seventeen rivers.
English is the official language in Belize and the only teaching language in the public schools. Spanish was spoken by about 60 percent of the people.
Belizean folklore is a combination of European, African, and Mayan beliefs. People believe of a pirate ship at night to lure sailors to death on the dangerous coral reef. People also believe in obeah, or witchcraft such as if a person makes a doll from a black sock and then buries it under the victim’s doorstep, great harm will come to that person.
Belizean population contains 15.6% of atheists, 40% Catholics and the rest as Protestants
St. George’s Caye Day, on September 10, originally celebrated a British victory over Spain, but it now commemorates local heroes. It is marked by parades, patriotic speeches, and a pageant. Independence Day is September 21. The birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, April 21, is also a national holiday, along with Commonwealth Day, May 24, and Columbus Day, October 12.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Infants are baptized as soon as possible. Godfathers are more important than godmothers. Children are sometimes sent to live with another family, usually of a higher economic and social position, so that they can get a better education. Sometimes the Catholic Church takes care of such children.
European-style courtesy to the extreme of hesitating to say “no.” So “maybe” or “possibly” usually means “no.” Young people often meet at public dances, but Creole or “Spanish” (Mestizo or Mayan) girls are rarely allowed to attend except on special occasions.
The national income per person in Belize is actually one of the highest in Central America. However, the cost of living is also high because so many goods must be imported. Many people who tour the country find Belize to be a great country, however behind the scenes Belize is filled with debt, crime, poverty, and poor living conditions.
For many Belizians, formal marriage ceremony is not necessary. However, family ties beyond the immediate family are strong, including close links to grandparents, aunts and uncles, and nephews and nieces. Many poorer households in Belize City are headed by single parents, usually women.
For business purposes, men tend to use a short-sleeved cotton shirt and trousers of lightweight fabric. Ties are rarely worn. Women wear simple cotton dresses.
In Belize, the main meal is eaten at midday and people call dinner “tea.” Corn tortillas, rice, and beans are the staple foods. Nanche is a sweet alcoholic drink made from crabou fruit and Belizeans drink it mixed with condensed milk.
Compared to other Central American countries, Belize has done a very good job of educating its citizens. More than 90 percent of all adults can read and write and education is free and mandatory between the ages of six and fourteen. A joint partnership of government and churches manages the school system.
Marimba music and Brukdown music is popular in Belize. A marimba group is made up of two musicians playing large wooden marimbas. Other musicians play a double bass and the drums. Brukdown is a kind of music played on the guitar, banjo, accordion, and steel drums, with someone also playing the jawbone of a donkey. It is accompanied by words that often make fun of people or events.
The unemployment rate is currently 11% with the unemployment rate for women is two and one half times that of men. School dropout rate was over 40 percent. Many people in the country seek work outside the country because it pays better than in Belize. Jobs available to women usually have low status and low wages and women are often paid less for doing work similar to men’s.
Soccer is the most popular sport, closely followed by basketball. Belizeans also play baseball and softball. There are a number of horse-racing meets around New Year’s Day, and bicycle races are also held. Other sports include polo and boxing.
National celebrations are accompanied by open-air dancing, called “jump-up.” There are few movie theaters but they show films from the United States. Dish antennas now receive more than fifty television channels via satellite signals.
CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Souvenirs such as straw baskets and carvings in wood, slate, and stone can be found at the National Handicrafts Center in Belize City. Jewelry is made from black coral.
Crime is very common in Belize City. There is also common use of imported powdered and crack cocaine and marijuana. Half the rural population is without pure water because the barrier reef and its animal and plant life are threatened by water pollution from the removal of coral, and spearfishing.